“…and now you know.”

By 30 Nov ’11Colored Commentary, Travel

One of the most amazing I-can’t-believe-that-really-happened experiences of my life happened in August 2008 while visiting my best friend, a Peace Corps worker in eastern Zambia.  The best part of the monthlong trip was the week we spent in the village she lived in, Sivwa. No running water, no electricity. Just peace, sunshine, and wonderful people. And ants. An ungodly number of ants.
When my friend and I arrived in Sivwa, everyone had lots of questions about the U.S., one of which was a complete surprise: the women  were shocked and in utter disbelief that we didn’t have any kind of coming-of-age rituals here in the States.  When asked how in the world people learned about sex, we didn’t even really know what to say. The internet? LaShaya explained that partners just kind of figure things out together as they go along. They scoffed. We were all around 25 years old and still unmarried– this was why! We were afraid because we didn’t know what to do. So they would teach us– the way they teach their own girls when they reach maturity. We could go home and be married like normal women our age.
So we five American girls bought ourselves some chickens and had a real-life, albeit abbreviated, chinamwali. Three PCVs, two visitors, three black girls, one white, one Asian, one actual real-life 24-year-old virgin who really was taking some first-night notes. It was beyond awesome. I can’t even really tell you about it.  It’s a secret.

This all popped into my head because I came across an article today that mentioned chinamwali and that it should be banned, along with genital mutilation and circumcision, as a harmful cultural practice. Now, I don’t know what other people do outside my small amount of knowledge and experience, but nothing I learned in Sivwa seemed harmful. In fact, it was far more sex-positive than any sex education I’ve had, formal or otherwise. It was all about showing girls– yes, girls who get married around age 15– how to maximize pleasure for their husbands and themselves, because it ain’t much fun if both ain’t getting one.

There isn’t any mutilation or circumcision involved. Girls are taught to stretch their inner labia so that they hang and make a sort of pleasurable intercourse-sleeve… but they aren’t forced, no one does it for them; around the age of 10 or so (whenever they start menses) they’re sent out to a private spot to spend time pulling every day. I can’t imagine having a daily block of time to sit alone somewhere and play with myself uninterrupted at that age. I probably would have been a much less neurotic kid. (The sneaking around was a killer.) One could say that the instruction in itself is harmful because girls are brought up to modify their bodies for their partners’ pleasure… but it doesn’t sound much different from many of the physical “norms” that American girls are taught… and pulling on labia sounds a lot less painful than a Brazilian wax.

So yeah… I’m not really going anywhere with this… just food for thought.

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